I will try to detail the whole route through and mention the notable points and information. There are many small villages that one would pass through and could stop at, but I would only highlight the more prominent ones. I did my trip in September-October 2017, which is during the peak season in Nepal but just slightly before the real crowds.
Before reading this, please first read my post on the guide to Manaslu Circuit Trek. It is important to first understand the regulations and requirements for the Manaslu Region. There is also more information on the side-treks you can do.
My Proposed Itinerary
For me, I have always been more of a high mountains person. I hate the humidity of the forests and lower altitudes, ironic as I come from Singapore. The thing about the Manaslu Circuit is that you start at very low altitude (around 700m) and you slowly make your way up through the forest along the river.
- The river follows you for the first 3 days until you past Jagat or near Deng. For me, it would be best if you can make your way past Deng as soon as possible.
- The most beautiful parts of the trek start from Lho onwards. In fact, the areas from Lho – Samdo were my favourite.
- I noticed that in Sept-Oct, the clouds came in at around 11am+, which obscures any view as well as brings potential rain. Additionally, I realized on hindsight I did not really like hiking after lunch. My advice is to start really early, enjoy the cloudless view in the morning, walk for a solid 4-5 hours and relax for lunch onwards.
- Therefore, the itinerary is based on hiking through the morning, eating a good lunch and relaxing in the afternoon. Trust me, that makes the whole trekking experience a lot more enjoyable. You also have more time to wander around villages, write your diary, chit-chat with locals as well as do smaller day trips.
|Days||Itinerary||Itinerary Details||Elevation||Distance||Trek Duration|
|1||Kathmandu – Arughat – Soti Khola (By Jeep)||By bus to Arughat, but by 4WD to Soti Khola||884m||8h by Transport|
|2||Sotikhola – Khorlabeshi||Stop at MacchaKhola for Lunch||970m||18km||6h|
|3||Khorlabeshi- Jagat||Stop at Yaru for Lunch||1340m||19km||6h|
|4||Jagat – Pewa||Stop at Lokpa if going to Tsum Valley||2235m||18.85km||5h|
|5||Pewa – Prok||2380m||5h|
|6||Prok – Lho||3180m||4h|
|7||Lho – Sama||Side trip to Pungyen Gompa enroute to Lho (3h)||3520m||4h|
|8||Rest Day in Sama||Manaslu Base Camp + Birendra Lake||4400m/3520m||8h|
|9||Sama – Samdo||3875m||4h|
|10||Rest day in Samdo||Day Hike to Tibet border (Rui La or Layjung Pass)||4998m/3875m||6h|
|11||Samdo to Dharmasala(Larke Phendi)||4460m||8h|
|12||Dharmasala(Larke Phendi) to Larke pass (5,160m) to Bimthang||5160m/3590m||9h|
|13||Bimthang to Goa(Gho/Gowa)||2515m/2300m||5h|
|14||Goa/Tiljie to Dharapani||1963m||3h|
|15||Dharapani – Kathmandu||8h by transport|
Arughat to Soti Khola
Elevation : 620m to 700m
Time : 2h ( By Car)
Distance : –
Some websites might propose walking to Arughat. For some backpackers, they take the bus from Kathmandu to Arughat. It is the cheapest and most common way. To get to Soti Khola however, you will need a 4WD or you can get there by walking. The road there is not very well maintained and it can be a chore when it rains. At some points we had to come out to walk or help push the car through the rocks and mud.
At Arughat, there is a checkpoint where you have to register. You will notice there are not many people who enter Manaslu.
I would propose saving a day and try to get a shared 4WD from Arughat or pre-arrange it from Kathmandu beforehand. If you save a night in Arughat, the cost difference is not so much if you are able to share a vehicle.
A shared vehicle cost around 30USD from Arughat to Soti Khola per person. Your guide + accommodation that night might cost more already.
After a long bumpy ride, we arrived in Soti Khola. There are not many accommodation choices. We stayed in this one because we were budget. Honestly, it was extremely hot in the rooms, there were a hell lot of mosquitoes and we were extremely afraid of bed bugs. I didn’t sleep a wink at all. I would suggest to go to the guesthouse where all the tourists were staying, or get a sleeping bag and insect repellent and sleep outside.
Soti Khola to Machha Khola
Elevation : 700m to 869m
Distance : 14.5km
Time : 5h
From SotiKhola to Machha Khola, the trail is quite wide as it follows the river (or the river follows you). Across the river, you will spy many waterfalls, especially if it rains. The first part of the trail could be deemed as the “The Endless Waterfall Trek” as there are countless waterfalls which you will start to be dumb to after awhile.
We stopped by several mountain water streams to top up our water.
It is also the start of the first of the many long and amazing suspension bridges you would come across.
There is a nice hut as a rest point just half-1h before MacchaKhorla. It is alongside the river.
I don’t have much pictures of Soti Khola because we just went through it. We only stopped because there was a checkpoint. I noticed a big lodge there which I assumed was the main lodge, it was on top of a hill and it looked decent. If you are there early, I would suggest to walk further to Khorlabesi so you have a shorter distance for the next day.
Elevation : 970m
Distance : 3.5km (From Machha Khola)
Time : 1.5 h
Khorlabesi lies just ahead of Macchakhorla. There is quite a nice big lodge there, it is an alternative if you wish to walk less on your second day and to get away from the Manaslu crowd who almost always stop at Macchakhorla. I would suggest to have lunch in Macchakhorla and stay in Khorlabesi.
Khorlabesi to Jagat
Elevation : 970m to 1340m
Distance : 19km
Time : 5.5h
The way from Khorlabesi to Jagat is almost similar. The route craves a trail along the outside of the mountain and in a valley. Some villages have nice stone walkways, one of which is Yaru. Yaru is a good place to stop for lunch. My DSLR camera spoiled then so I did not have much pictures and had to rely on my gropro for the next few days. (That is another story for another day) If you are doing a slow trek through Manaslu and have more days , you can consider stopping at Yaru, if not just press on to Jagat.
Elevation : 1340m
Jagat is the first official checkpoint into the Manaslu Circuit. You have officially entered the Manaslu Region! It has the largest MCAP station with a supposed English-speaking officer who lives in the village full time.
It was also the place I first felt and thought, “Ah I am finally in Manaslu”. The weather was more cooling and less humid, the lodges looked much better and felt more developed (irony here). If Jagat is too crowded for you, consider heading to Salleri. It is also a beautiful village to stay the night in.
Jagat – Pewa(Instead of Deng)
Elevation : 1340m – 2235m
Distance : 18.85km
Time : 5.5h
From Jagat, the route starts to be get more dramatic and beautiful. There are green valleys and majestic waterfalls. The trail also cuts closer to the river. You will pass by the villages of Salleri, Sirdibas, Cham, Philim and Nyak which you can stop for a break or lunch but I would suggest to just head to Pewa. Just before Philim, there is another police checkpoint on a riverbed. It is a bright blue and yellow metal shed.
*If you wish to go do the side trek to Tsum Valley, head to Lokpa instead!
Elevation : 1863m
This is the junction where the trail splits off to the Tsum Valley extension.
Elevation : 2235m
It is quite a long hike from Jagat to Pewa. We walked at quite a fast pace and still took slightly more than 5 hours. Pewa is a small village but it has a nice guest house which overlooks the gushing river. It was quite peaceful to sit and listen to the sounds of the flowing water. After such a strenuous morning hike, we took a long lunch break there. Therefore, on hindsight I would have preferred to stay here instead of Deng.
The route from Pewa onwards is a descent towards Deng. Most trekking groups stay the night at Deng. There are only 2 lodges and it can be quite crowded if there happen to be big groups on the same day. Moreover, the area does not have much of a view. From the pictures, the place might look a little rundown but the rooms and beds in Deng were fine. There was even water (hot water even!) for shower and a toilet bowl so I’ll take it any day.
Elevation : 2235m to 1860m
Distance : 4km (from Pewa)
Time : 1h (From Pewa)
Deng to Namrung
Elevation : 1860m to 2630m
Distance : 22km
Time : 6.5h
Once past Deng, you get the feeling you are already higher up in the valleys. For me, there was a sense of impatience because we had been surrounded by the valleys for the past few days, it can get quite claustrophobic. Luckily from Bihi onwards, which is around the halfway point of this section from Deng to Namrung, the mountains will start to appear. Take some time to look behind you and admire the valley views.
Most people stop at Ghap or Prok for lunch. One can consider staying there also. It takes around 4.5h to reach there.
KLSP Hotel (instead of Namrung/Ghap/Prok)
Elevation : 2236m
Distance : 18km ( From Deng)
Time : 5h (From Deng)
Namrung is a nice enough place but it can be slightly claustrophobic and touristy, with its narrow pathways and big multi-storey lodges right at the front of the village. On the way to Namrung, you can stop at this nice little KLSP Hotel which is in between Ghap and Namrung. It lies just slightly before Suksum (1.5h from Namrung). I tried to find it exactly on the map but it is hard to pinpoint it, but I am pretty sure you will come across it on the trek. You can view the GPS location above and try to find it.
We were there for lunch, but we wished we could stay there for the night. It was hidden in a quiet little area with forest and waterfall. It supposedly has spa services but I could imagine taking a bath in the nearby waters. To me, this was a real hidden gem.
Elevation : 2630m
Distance : 4km (From KLSP Hotel)
Time : 1.2h (From KLSP Hotel)
Namrung has 1 main lodges where everyone stays. The main lodge is 3 storeys tall. It is quite a good place because it has hot water, the rooms are big with electricity and the beds are comfortable. The stairs however are so steep that the trek seems easy. There are a few smaller lodges or guesthouse further down but almost everyone goes to stay at the main lodge.
It is a good place to stay, but if you wish to be a bit different, stay in KLSP Hotel and move past Namrung to Lho.
Namrung – Lho
Elevation : 2630m to 3180m
Distance : 10 km
Time : 3h
From Namrung onwards, the high mountains start to dominate the landscape. This will be the point where you will first spy the snow mountains from afar, most likely that of Ganesh Himal (7,422 m) and Himal Chuli (7893 m). The trek comprise of gradual ascents through the valleys.
Elevation : 3180m
The trek from Namrung onwards starts to get more beautiful. I suggest to spend more time in these areas, which is the reason for the stop in Lho.
It will be the start of you going : Oh wow, this is what Nepal is all about. Lho should be where you receive the first view of Mount Manaslu and some might say it has the best viewpoint of it. The viewpoint lies on top of the hill. From far, we thought it was a guesthouse, but apparently it is a monastery/massive Gompa which also serves as housing and an education centre for the children of the village. You might be able to have lunch there and have an amazing view of Mount Manaslu.
The village itself is really beautiful and serene. Houses there are big and spacious, complemented with huge gardens and flowers. Lho was one of my favorite places but pity we were only there for lunch. I would recommend staying here. We had organic food, vegetables and potatoes all grown and plucked on the spot from the garden. Luckily I didn’t pee outdoors. We even helped partake in the cooking because we wanted to cook the fresh ingredients “Singaporean” style.
It has all the elements in harmony. Good weather, good altitude, flowers, one of the best mountain views while sitting outdoors, what is there not to love about this place?
Lho – Sama (Sama Gaon)
Elevation : 3180m to 3525m
Distance : 8 km
Time : 3h
The trek from Lho to Sama goes through quite dramatic landscapes. My favorite part is the bridge from Shyala to Sama. Thelong metal suspension bridge hangs over the roaring river and an intimidating mountain scenery which stands over the horizon. Enroute to Lho, one could go on a 3h side trip to Pungyen Gompa which has amazing views. It would be worth if you stayed the night in Lho.
Elevation : 3180m to 3500m
Distance : 4 km (From Lho)
Time : 1.5 h (From Lho)
Shyala can also be another place you might wish to consider stopping at, if you feel like trekking after lunch. It is another beautiful village, with nice open space and great scenery, although not as stunning as Lho. There are many lodges and many others being built. It does give a feel similar to Namrung, where it seems to be slightly touristy. There is also quite a bit of construction and deforestation happening around. The Royal Gorkha cafe is a huge lodge under construction, but I had seen it in another village too. I have a feeling it is co-invested by some foreigner into Nepal.
Sama (Sama Gaon)
Elevation : 3525m
Sama (Sama Gaon) is the de-facto place to stay as the first foray into the higher altitudes. It is a pretty big village with many tea-houses and locals. This is because people who have completed trekking to the summit of Manaslu(8,156m) stay in this village before moving on. You will be greeted by Mount Manaslu and the snow mountains in the morning.
Sama is also the place where most people stay an extra night to do some side trips.
One such side trip is to the Manaslu Base Camp. Afterall, since you have been eyeing Mount Manaslu for half the journey, you might as well make your way to the base camp.
Although some people call it acclimatization day or rest day in Sama, the truth is the trek to the base camp is quite tiring. It takes around 5-6h up to the base camp and another 3-4h back to Sama. You can combine it with the Bieranda Tal (lake) because it is just slightly less than an hour from Sama. I did not do it, but you can read up more about it on the Side Trip sections.
An alternative if you spend an extra day in Sama is to head to Pungyen Gompa instead for a 3h day trip.
Sama (Sama Gaon) – Samdo
Elevation : 3525m – 3875m
Distance : 7.8 km
Time : 3.5 h
At the higher altitudes, there are lesser villages and choices to stay. The trek is reasonably flat as the altitude gain isn’t much. It is a nice stroll to Samdo, with some ascents.
If you wish to push yourself, head to Manaslu Base Camp before heading to Samdo.
Elevation : 3875m
Samdo is a pretty big Tibetan village (by comparison to other places). Most trekkers stay at Yak Hotel or a few more smaller lodes which are situated near the entrance of the village. I noticed that the village is quite split between the residential side (where the villagers stay) and the working side (where all the lodges are). There is also quite a strong agriculture culture over there. The villagers grow their own potatoes and vegetables. If you wish to experience authentic Tibetan culture, here is one of the places and I would highly advise you to walk around the village, drop by some homes for tea and potatoes (pay them of course) and relax. You could also try some local alcohol if you wish but it taste awful if you ask me.
Most would stay here for 2 nights for acclimatization. At this height, you are almost at Mount Kinabalu height. Imagine sleeping at the top of the highest mountain in South-East Asia. That is for acclimatization. This is also the last ‘proper lodge’ you will get to stay until Bimthang.
Take the opportunity to hike around Samdo. The ‘hills’ around Samdo provides a magnificent view of the mountains surrounding as well as the village. You can see Larkya Peak, Manaslu, Naike, just to name a few. you get to see.
It is a good opportunity to visit the Tibetan border (Rui La or Layjung Pass) which makes an excellent day trip and acclimatization day.
Samdo – Dharmshala (Larke Phendi)
Elevation : 3875m – 4460m
Distance : 6.5 km
Time : 5 h
If you come from South-East Asia, you would most likely have done Mount Kinabalu or Gunung Rinjani. This is the day to go past your personal best in terms of altitude. The terrain is similar to the way from Sama – Samdo, except more dramatic and spectacular. The view of Samdo Himal (6335m) dominates the landscape as it stares at you while you advance. On the side, you might come across Naike, Manaslu and Lakrya, where if you are lucky(or unlucky) you can see avalanches down the sides of the high mountains.
Before reaching Dharmshala, some opportunistic and entrepreneurial locals might be waiting at the 3/4 point of the trek with snacks and tea. It is a good place to take a break, have a hot drink in the mountains while enjoying the amazing view.
Dharmshala (Larke Phendi)
Dharmshala is not really a village or a lodge. It is almost as good as camping. In fact, most people take the camping option in Dharmshala. The only lodges are the dining area and 1 spartan lodge that can actually be colder than the tents. It is usually undermanned also so food can take some time to arrive. You can see that clearly Dharmshala was just set up for the trekkers because it is too long a distance from Samdo to Bimthang unless you are a local. The locals usually ply the route from Samdo to Bimthang to get supplies because they are the last villages to get items.
In winter, Dharmshala is usually closed and you can see why. It is really barren and cold, so take your time to get there.
Dharmshala – Larkye Pass to Bimthang
Elevation : 4460m – 5,160m – 3590m.
Distance : 17 km
Time : 10.5 h
If you are starting from Dharshala, crossing Larkya Pass onto Bimthang, this will be one of the longest day as you are doing both distance and altitude.
I suggest to start at 4-5am, just before sunrise. This is to make use of the spectacular view of the pass. In the morning there are usually very little clouds so you can get a clear view of the surrounding peaks while descending. The majestic view will take your breath away. The weather can be quite fickle at Larkya Pass, so be prepared for snow or unforgiving weather.
The trek starts off as a gradual ascent through the mountain slopes. The sticks with the yellow band at the top are your guide throughout the trek. They are actually snow markers. The trek breaks into a more rocky paths flanked by moraine. This pretty much continues until you reach Larkya pass. There is an amazing turquoise mountain lake which you can go down to, but just know that the water is freezing cold! If you are tired, there is a small rest hut around an hour before Larkya Pass.
It takes around 4.5h to get from Dharmshala to Larkya Pass. This is followed by another 5-6h of almost winding descent down to Bimthang.
*Larkya Pass is also the place to set up the tent if you wish to do Larkya Peak.
Elevation : 5160m
Distance : 6.5 km (From Dharmshala)
Time : 4.5h (From Dharmshala)
Larkye/Larkya Pass is the highest point of the Manaslu Circuit Trek. The sign says 5106m but I believe they wrote it wrongly, it should be 5160m. The magnificent Dharapani/Annapurna range of mountains forms your mind canvas as you make your way down the pass. Unfortunately for us, due to a series of unfortunate events while doing the Larkya Peak which didn’t turn out well, we ended up making our descent through the night. Therefore my pictures do not have the view and I can only imagine what it would have been like.
My pictures of the Larkya Pass were taken primarily in the evening before the sun set. Don’t be alarmed at the clothes we were wearing at the Larkya Pass. We wore such thick layers because it was in the evening and we were coming down from Larkya mountain.
Elevation : 3590m
Distance : 10.5 km
Time : 6 h
Bimthang is like Samdo, just on the other side of the pass. It sits in a nice valley surrounded by mountains with the view of the other face of Manaslu. The lodge is quite comfortable with a big toilet and pretty big room.
Bimthang – Dharapani
Elevation : 3590m – 1963m
Distance : 24.5km
Time : 9 h
Although I went all the way to Dharapani, I wished I had stopped at Sukri or Gowa for one more night just to enjoy the mountains more. Chauli Khakra is another place to consider if you are slower. It is another long hike down if you decide to push on all the way to Dharapani. This only makes sense if you wish to connect with civilization and the city again, or you can’t wait to have a proper hot shower.
The trek starts off from Bimthang with a fantastic view of the Annapurna range of mountains in front of you and the Manaslu range behind you. Once you enter the Annapurna region, the route descends along the river again. There are a few bridges but nothing like the long suspension bridges in Manaslu. As you go lower, it is very similar to the first few days of Manaslu. It becomes a mixture of dense forest and a pathway following the river downhill. I actually love the huge natural red rocks by the river. Once you are past Tilje, it is the infamous dirt/mud road which looks like it is under construction. I suspect that in a few years time, you can take a vehicle easily all the way to Tilje.
Surki Khola/Goa (Gho/Gowa)
Elevation : 2730m/2500m
Distance : 11 km
Time : 4 h
Goa or Surki Khola is one of the last few villages to enjoy the very last night in the mountains. Most people stop at Tilje but I didn’t like it so much as it was crowded and at too low an altitude. There is a nice outdoor area to sit and relax and enjoy the last few days of the wild in both Goa and Surki Khola. They have pretty beautiful lodges too.
Elevation : 1963m
Distance : 7.8 km
Time : 3.5 h
Dharapani is part of the starting points for Annapurna Treks. It is a decent sized town which has many lodges and many vehicles driving in and out, which can be a shock to the many days walking along the remote Manaslu Circuit.
Some itineraries suggest getting down to Besisahar. However, it is a long trek on a dirt road. Walking is a good choice if one is afraid of being in a car which drives along narrow cliffs. It was quite scary to take the car down because from the passenger seat I could look down at the crumbling rocks and cliff sides. I was basically staring at my death if there was one mishap. The view was quite beautiful and you can see the numerous groups of Annapurna trekkers on the other side. However, I wouldn’t want to be walking as the trail itself seemed boring.
Similar to Arughat, you can take a 4WD from Dharapani to Kathmandu. However, if I am not wrong, it doesn’t go straight. The 4WD will only take you to Besisahar. From there, you will be shifted to a bus back to Kathmandu. I would suggest taking the car if you have some money look to save 1 day of walking.
Almost all the information online hyped about the Manaslu Circuit Trek. When I was doing the trek, I was thinking half the time it was a pretty good trek but one that is as mind-blowing or hyped as what my research seemed to have hinted at. One of the reasons is because the Manaslu region is having a lot more investment and construction in recent years. Another reason is there is a dearth of information on it, so most of the information on the circuit were written by the agencies themselves. Additionally, I have a feeling many of the experiences were clouded by the nostalgia or village effect, where the idea of being in an old village or somewhere less developed makes the experience a lot better. A counter view of all the information can be seen in this tripadvisor post, a rare one I must say about the Manaslu Circuit Trek.
On hindsight, my experience might have been tinted by me focusing too much on trying to be in tip-top condition for Larkya Peak as well as negative things which happened then. Also, my camera spoiled on the 2nd day of my trek which destroyed some of the joy I have travelling ( I love taking pictures, bad ones even). Without my camera, I feel like half my soul is ripped apart as though my other half is missing.
Doing this post and looking back at the pictures was quite a cathartic experience for me. I believed I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had taken more time or followed my proposed itinerary. The weather also played a big part in whether the enjoyment of the trek. The low altitude humidity and rain, coupled with mosquitoes made the first few days quite a nightmare.
I starting writing this post thinking I would conclude that it was not worth it doing the Manaslu Circuit, but I have changed my mind.
The Manaslu Circuit Trek has many great things. It has dramatic views, a huge variety of landscapes with both Hindu and Tibetan culture as you ascend from the low altitudes to high altitudes. Like a true mountain circuit, you can be away from the crowds as compared to EBC or ABC. It is not the Rinjani of Nepal, not in the same vein of ‘Woah this is mind-blowing’ because of the availability of other treks in Nepal. Is it better than EBC and ABC, or other treks in India with high passes, maybe not, but it would still be amazing for a first-timer.
So in conclusion, the Manaslu Circuit Trek is for you if you wish to get away from the crowds, wish to do something different in Nepal, or have more freedom in choosing your itinerary. It is definitely a fantastic trek for first-time hikers and trekkers for their first experience to high altitude due to the long acclimatization route. For it to be the best all-around trek in the world or even in Nepal? I have my doubts about that.
If you wish to read other people’s itineraries, here are some websites you can follow :